Journal of Threatened Taxa | | 26 September 2016 | 8(11): 9322–9326





New distribution records of Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei (Testudines: Chelidae) from southeastern Brazil, including observations on reproduction


bio Maffei 1, Bruno Tayar Marinho do Nascimento 2, Guilherme Marson Moya 3 & Reginaldo José Donatelli 4


1,3,4 Universidade Estadual Paulista lio de Mesquita Filho, Faculdade de Ciências, Departamento de Ciências Biológicas, Avenida Engenheiro Luiz Edmundo Carrijo Coube, 14-01, CEP 17033-360, Bauru, SP, Brazil.

3 Instituto Pró-Terra, Rua Nicolau Piragine, 253, Chácara Bela Vista, CEP 17209070 Jaú, SP, Brazil.

1 (corresponding author), 2, 3, 4



doi: | ZooBank:


Editor: Anonymity requested. Date of publication: 26 September 2016 (online & print)


Manuscript details: Ms # 2643 | Received 24 March 2016 | Final received 08 September 2016 | Finally accepted 10 September 2016


Citation: Maffei, F., B.T.M. do Nascimento, G.M. Moya & R.J. Donatelli (2016). New distribution records of Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei (Testudines: Chelidae) from southeastern Brazil, including observations on reproduction. Journal of Threatened Taxa 8(11): 93229326;


Copyright: © Maffei et al. 2016. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. JoTT allows unrestricted use of this article in any medium, reproduction and distribution by providing adequate credit to the authors and the source of publication.


Funding: Duratex S.A. and FUNDIBIO.


Conflict of Interest: The authors declare no competing interests.


Acknowledgements: Thanks to Duratex and Fundibio by the finance of the study in Estrela do Sul, Instituto Florestal de São Paulo for permission to research in Águas de Santa Barbara, Decio Tadeu for helping in field work, Virginia Bernardes and Christine Strussmann for the available literature, Fernanda Magno for English translation, and Flávio K. Ubaid for map.




Abstract: Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei is a poorly known freshwater turtle widely distributed in central South America, where it occurs in Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and probably Bolivia. It is considered “Near Threatened” by the IUCN Red List and Data Deficient” by other local lists. Herein, we present new records and data on the reproductive biology of Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei in southeastern Brazil.

Keywords: Cerrado, chelonians, reptiles, South America.





Brazil has a great diversity of chelonians, including five species of sea turtles, 29 species of freshwater turtles and two species of terrestrial tortoises (Costa & Bérnils 2015). Chelidae is the richest family in species with 20 representatives of seven genera (Acanthochelys, Chelus, Hydromedusa, Mesoclemmys, Phrynops, Platemys and Rhinemys; Costa & Bérnils 2015). Among the eight species in the Mesoclemmys genus, M. vanderhaegei (Toad-headed Turtle) is a medium-sized freshwater turtle, which has a carapace length of approximately 250mm and inhabits shallow water bodies with dense aquatic vegetation (Marques et al. 2014). It is a poorly known freshwater turtle widely distributed in central South America, where it occurs in the Amazon, Tocantins, Paraguay, Paraná, and Uruguay River basins in association with open formations (Souza 2005) in the countries of Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil, and probably Bolivia (Marques et al. 2014). In Brazil, this species has been recorded in the states of Tocantins, Goiás, Distrito Federal, Mato Grosso, Mato Grosso do Sul, Minas Gerais and São Paulo, inhabiting Cerrado areas, but there is only one record in the Atlantic Rainforest area in the state of São Paulo (Bour & Pauler 1987).

Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei is considered “Near Threatened” by the IUCN Red List (Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group 1996). In the List of Brazilian Fauna Threatened with Extinction, this species was already classified as “Data Deficient” (Machado et al. 2005), but is now categorized as “Least Concern” (Vogt et al. 2015). The same category is presented in the List of Fauna Species of Minas Gerais State, in which this species was evaluated as “Data Deficient” in 2007 (Biodiversitas 2007), but is currently not listed. This species is also present in the List of Endangered Fauna of São Paulo State in the category of “Data Deficient” (São Paulo 2014), while in Paraguay it is considered “Insufficiently Known” (Prado et al. 2012).

Despite its wide occurrence, there are few known records of M. vanderhaegei in southeastern Brazil (Bour & Pauler 1987; Souza et al. 2000; Silveira et al. 2009; Marques et al. 2013; Mendonça et al. 2013) and studies are needed on the geographical distribution and population dynamics of this species (Vogt et al. 2015). In this context, we present new records and additional data on the reproductive biology of Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei.



Materials and Methods

An inventory of the herpetofauna was made at two sites of Cerrado biome areas in southeastern Brazil, the basin of Paraná River. At the first site, field visits were conducted monthly in 2011 and 2012 in Águas de Santa Barbara municipality, São Paulo State, totaling 24 visits. The observations were made in a small pond (60 x 60 m) in the Ecological Station of Santa Barbara (22048’50”S & 49014’11”W, altitude 620m). The pond is located in the open area and its border is formed by grass and emergent vegetation. The water is crystal clear; the maximum depth is 3 m; the flow is slow and the water surface has floating macrophytes (Image 1). At the second site, field visits were conducted bimonthly between October 2014 and February 2016 in Estrela do Sul municipality, Minas Gerais State, totaling nine visits. The observations were made in a small pond (35x45m) at Nova Monte Carmelo Farm, Estrela do Sul municipality, Minas Gerais State (18045’9”S & 47051’52”W, altitude 941m). This pond is close to a crystal-clear stream in an open Cerrado area (Image 2). At this site, a funnel trap (Bury et al. 2012) was used during two days only in the third field visit. The captured individuals were marked based on the method of Cagle (1939).

The chelonians were recorded according to the permits SISBIO 30833-1 and 46085-1. The specimens were identified according to Rueda-Almonacid et al. (2007).

Results and Discussion

On 13 October 2011, a couple of Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei (Images 3, 4 and 5) was manually captured in Águas de Santa Bárbara. We collected and deposited voucher specimens in the Herpetological Collection at the University of São Paulo, Museu de Zoologia da Universidade de São Paulo” (Numbers MZUSP T 4396 and 4397). On 16 October 2012 another adult individual was seen in the same pond. Both records were obtained at night (about 20:00 hr) while the animals were foraging.

On 27 February 2015 a female of Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei (Image 6) in Estrela do Sul was captured by using the “funnel trap” and kept in a plastic box at the study base. The individual measured 206mm of carapace length and 134mm of carapace width. On the next day, the female laid seven eggs that had the following measures (L x W mm, weight): Egg 1 - 23.7x18.9 mm, 9.1g; Egg 2 - 21.3x19.1 mm, 8.5g; Egg 3 - 22.3x18.9 mm, 8.1g; Egg 4 - 22.7x19.8 mm, 8.7g; Egg 5 - 23.9x19.3 mm, 9.3g; Egg 6 - 22.9x19.4 mm, 8.7g; Egg 7 - 22.3x17.9 mm, 7.5g. The eggs were incubated, but did not result in hatchlings.

On 21 November 2015, a male individual was manually captured in the same pond (Image 7). This record was obtained at 21:00 hr and the animal was on the pond border. The individual measured 250mm of carapace length and 160mm of carapace width. Both, the female and the male were marked and returned to the same capture site.

In the present study, a couple foraging was recorded in October, corroborating data of Rueda-Almonacid et al. (2007) and Brito et al. (2009), who reported mating in the spring and early summer, between September and January. The clutch recorded in Estrela do Sul, was observed in February, following the pattern of the species which has its spawning season in late summer (Rueda-Almonacid et al. 2007). The recorded clutch size (six eggs) fit into the pattern for this species, which is 6.5 eggs in nature (Rueda-Almonacid et al. 2007) and 6.4 eggs in captivity (Corazza & Molina 2004). The eggs had an average length of 22.7mm (± 0.9), and an average width of 19.0mm (± 0.6) and mean weight of 8.6g (±0.6). These are below the average values reported by Corazza & Molina (2004): 34.1x26.9 mm, weight 14.4g. This should be related to the female size. Wilkinson & Gibbons (2005) reported that one of the factors contributing to the variability in egg size is the body size of the female. Rueda-Almonacid et al. (2007) reported that the size range of mature females of M. vanderhaegei is between 148mm and 285mm of carapace length, and the female of this study showed an intermediate value (206mm). However, Corazza & Molina (2004) did not observe any statistically significant correlation between the carapace length of the female and the clutch size in captivity for M. vanderhaegei.

In São Paulo State, this species was recorded at four locations. Souza et al. (2000) recorded the species in Itirapina, citing records in the cities of Caieiras and São Paulo (capital). Marques et al. (2013) recorded the species in Angatuba. The present record is at 150km SW from Itirapina and 100km NW from Angatuba (Fig. 1). In Minas Gerais State, our record is the third in the state and is at 200km SW from João Pinheiro (Silveira 2009) and 450km W from Jaboticatubas (Mendonça et al. 2013). The records of Itirapina, Águas de Santa Barbara and Jaboticatubas were in protected areas (Ecological Station of Itirapina, Ecological Station of Santa Barbara and Serra do Cipó National Park, respectively). The records of Estrela do Sul and Angatuba (Marques et al. 2013) were obtained in private eucalyptus farms. These records in protected and private areas in the southeast of Cerrado are important. Souza et al. (2000) indicated that even small reserves may be important for the conservation of this species, since some populations survive and reproduce in small remnants. The Cerrado biome is considered a global hotspot, which is a priority area for conservation characterized by a large concentration of endemic species, rich biodiversity and high threat level (Myers et al. 2000). More than half of the areas of this biome has been modified by humans and only 2.2% are protected areas (Klink & Machado 2005). Maintenance of the protected areas where this species occurs, protection of the remaining Cerrado and consequent perpetuation of the natural resident subpopulations of M. vanderhaegei are efficient actions for the conservation of this species (Vogt et al. 2015). Although considered “Near Threatened” by the IUCN Red List (Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group 1996), Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei has a wide distribution and is abundant at some locations (e.g.: Brito et al. 2009; Marques et al. 2013). More recently, in 2012, the IUCN Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group evaluated the species as either Data Deficient or Near Threatened (Turtle Taxonomy Working Group, 2014). Moreover, this species is tolerant of degraded areas (Rueda-Almonacid et al. 2007). This report extends the distribution of Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei to the east of São Paulo State and Minas Gerais State and proposes that its threat category should be changed to “Least Concern”. The last evaluation by the IUCN (Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group 1996) was made 20 years ago, from that period to the present, the number of records of this species has increased significantly, making necessary an update in the threat category.









Biodiversitas (2007). Revisão das listas das espécies da flora e da fauna ameaçadas de extinção do estado de Minas Gerais. Relatório Final, Volume 3 (Resultados: Lista Vermelha da Fauna de Minas Gerais). Downloaded on 21 March 2016.

Bour, R. & I. Pauler (1987). Identité de Phrynops vanderhaegei Bour, 1973, et des espèces affines. Mésogée 47: 3–23.

Brito, E.S., C. Strussmann & J.M.F. Penha (2009). Population structure of Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei (Bour, 1973) (Testudines: Chelidae) in the Cerrado of Chapada dos Guimarães, Mato Grosso, Brazil. Biota Neotropica 9(4): 246–248.

Bury, R.B., D.T. Ashton, D.J. Germano, N.E. Karraker, D.A. Reese & K.E. Schlick (2012). Sampling of Turtles: Trapping and Snorkeling. Northwestfauna 7: 37–50.

Corazza, S.S. & F.B. Molina (2004). Biologia reprodutiva e conservação ex-situ de Bufocephala vanderhaegei (Testudines, Chelidae). Arquivos do Instituto Biológico 71: 210–213.

Costa, H.C. & R.S. Bérnils (2015). Répteis brasileiros: Lista de espécies 2015. Herpetologia Brasileira 4(3): 74–84.

Klink, C.A. & R.B. Machado (2005). Conservation of the Brazilian Cerrado. Conservation Biology 19: 707–713.

Machado, A.B.M, C.S. Martins & G.M. Drummond (2005). Lista da Fauna Brasileira Ameaçada de Extinção: incluindo as espécies Quase Ameaçadas e Deficientes em Dados. Belo Horizonte: Fundação Biodiversitas, 160p.

Marques, T.S., S. Böhm, E.S. Brito, M.R. Cabrera & L.M. Verdade (2014). Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei (Bour 1973) – Vanderhaege’s Toad-headed Turtle, Karumbé-hy, pp. 083.1–083.8. In: Rhodin, A.G.J., P.C.H. Pritchard, P.P. van Dijk, R.A. Saumure, K.A. Buhlmann, J.B. Iverson & R.A. Mittermeier (eds.). Conservation Biology of Freshwater Turtles and Tortoises: A Compilation Project of the IUCN/SSC Tortoise and Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(7);

Marques, T.S., N.R.F. Lara, L.A.B. Bassetti, B.O. Ferronato, A. Malvásio & L.M. Verdade (2013). Population structure of Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei (Testudines, Chelidae) in a silvicultural system in southeastern Brazil. Herpetology Notes 6: 179–182.

Mendonça, S.H.S.T., A.L. Silveira, R.O.L. Salles & M.C.C. Secco (2013). Quelônios do Parque Nacional da Serra do Cipó e da Área de Proteção Ambiental Morro da Pedreira (Minas Gerais): composição faunística e uso de ambientes. Anais do VI Congresso Brasileiro de Herpetologia, Salvador, Brasil.

Myers, N., R.A. Mittermeier, C.G. Mittermeier, G.A.B. Fonseca & J. Kent (2000). Biodiversity hotspots for conservation priorities. Nature 403: 853–858.

Prado, W.S., T. Waller, D.A. Albareda, M.R. Cabrera, E. Etchepare, A.R. Giraudo, V.G. Carman, L. Prosdocimi & E. Richard (2012). Categorización del estado de conservación de las tortugas de la República Argentina. Cuadernos de Herpetología 26(1): 375–388.

Rueda-Almonacid, J.V., J.L. Carr, R.A. Mittermeier, A.J.V. Rodríguez-Mahech, R.B. Mast, R.C. Vogt, A.G.J. Rhodin, J. Ossa-Velásquez, J.N. Rueda & C.G. Mittermeier (2007). Las Tortugas y los Cocodrilianos de los Países Andinos del Trópico. Bogotá: Conservación Internacional, 538pp.

São Paulo (2014). Decreto 60.133/2014. Declara as espécies da fauna silvestre ameaçadas de extinção, as quase ameaçadas e as deficientes de dados para avaliação no Estado de São Paulo e dá providências correlatas. Diário Oficial Poder Executivo - Seção I, São Paulo, 124(27): 25. Downloaded on 21 March 2016.

Silveira, A.L (2009). Geographic distribution. Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei. Herpetological Review 40: 235–236.

Souza, F.L. (2005). Geographical distribution patterns of South American side-necked turtles (Chelidae), with emphasis on Brazilian species. Revista Española de Herpetología 19: 33–46.

Souza, F.L., M. Martins & R.J. Sawaya (2000). A new record and observations of Vanderhaege’s toad-headed turtle Phrynops vanderhaegei (Testudines, Chelidae) in SE Brazil. Boletin de la Asociación Herpetológica Española 11: 85–88.

Tortoise & Freshwater Turtle Specialist Group (1996). Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 1996: e.T17084A6797906. Downloaded on 21 March 2016;

Turtle Taxonomy Working Group [van Dijk, P.P., J.B. Iverson, A.G.J. Rhodin, H.B. Shaffer, & R. Bour]. (2014). Turtles of the world, 7th edition: annotated checklist of taxonomy, synonymy, distribution with maps, and conservation status. Chelonian Research Monographs 5(7): 000.329–479;

Vogt, R.C., C.K. Fagundes, Y.S.L. Bataus, R.A.M. Balestra, F.R.W. Batista, V.M. Uhlig, A.L. Silveira, A. Bager, A.M. Batistella, F.L. Souza, G.M. Drummond, I.J. Reis, R. Bernhard, S.H.S.T. Mendonça & V.L.F. Luz (2015). Avaliação do Risco de Extinção de Mesoclemmys vanderhaegei (Bour, 1973) no Brasil. Processo de avaliação do risco de extinção da fauna brasileira. ICMBio. Downloaded on 21 March 2016.

Wilkinson, L.R. & J.W. Gibbons (2005). Patterns of reproductive allocation: Clutch and egg size variation in three freshwater turtles. Copeia 2005(4): 868–879.